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Vietnamese Portland: Memory, History, Community

November 28, 2018

  • Rose VL Deli owner William Vuong.
  • Jordan St. Peter '19, Azen Jaffe '19, William Vuong, E.J. Carter, and Hannah Crummé at Rose VL Deli.

The project I’m now working on, “Vietnamese Portland: Memory, History, Community,” was first conceptualized in the fall of 2017 by Lewis & Clark’s Head of Special Collections and College Archives Hannah Crummé and Special Collections and Archives Librarian E.J. Carter. The goal of the project is to document the history and experiences of Vietnamese Portlanders. In addition to interviews, we collect documents, photographs, and ephemera. We hope to contribute to a more rounded, inclusive history of Portland and create a space for people of Vietnamese descent to tell their stories. There is a lot of Oregon history about white settlers and colonizers, but Oregon is more diverse than people often think. For that reason, I think this project is important.

I’ve been working in the archives since I was a sophomore, which is how I initially got involved with this project. I’m now one of the project managers along with students Jordan St. Peter and Lucy Hamill. Jordan, Lucy, and I attend and help conduct interviews, transcribe recordings, and manage the interview schedule.

Interviewing folks and project managing have been valuable learning experiences. We have a default interview template that we modify for each individual. We are constantly adjusting the ways in which we ask questions and the order we ask them to elicit responses. Keeping in touch with dozens of people and reaching out to complete strangers has been challenging and interesting. I have been tweaking the way I correspond and introduce myself to interviewees so that they remain interested in our project. I really enjoy project managing and would be happy to do something like this in the future.

Throughout my work, I’ve learned a lot about the processes people went through to leave Vietnam during and after the Vietnam War. One main takeaway is that patterns of immigration are complex and people have had a lot of different experiences. Some people came directly to Portland. Others resettled here after initially immigrating to a different state. Depending on when it occurred, one person’s journey from Vietnam to the United States could have been very different from others. Some folks, like those who fled Vietnam by sea, share very harrowing experiences.  

I’ve learned from a lot of our interviewees about what it was like to resettle in Portland. We’ve talked to business owners and monks as well as representatives from the Vietnamese Community of Oregon (VNCO), the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO).

Additionally, I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, a lot about the process of Vietnamese refugee resettlement. In fact, I’m writing my history thesis about Portland’s response to Vietnamese resettlement during the 1980s. This oral history project is a large component of my research.

Jordan and I are both graduating in the Spring, so Hannah and E.J. are starting to recruit younger students to replace us. If students are interested in becoming involved with the project they should reach out to Hannah or E.J.

(Written By: Azen Jaffe)

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